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15 relaxing video games to help you destress

From puzzlers and driving sims to power washing and Tetris.

adamgryu

In recent years, we’ve seen an influx of self-proclaimed “cozy games,” video games explicitly designed to invoke good vibes. Being cozy, however, isn’t the same as being good. To help gamers who could use some help winding down after a long day, we’ve rounded up a selection of chill games that purposefully deemphasize fail states, violence, overwhelming grinds, intense competition and other aggressive urges, but aren’t overly cute for the sake of it or so stripped-down that they’re boring. ​​Here are some of the best relaxing games you can play on your console, PC, iPhone or Android phone.

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Stardew Valley

This open-ended sim has you building up a dilapidated farm and interacting with nearby townsfolk.

$15 at Amazon$15 at Target

Apart from being one of our favorite couch co-op games, the farming life sim Stardew Valley is also notable for its relaxing qualities. It’s a calming game that’s willing to meet you at your pace: If you want to putter around your farm, casually chat up townsfolk, brew beer or fish for a few hours, you can. (On the flipside, if you want to turn your land into a model of ruthless efficiency as soon as possible, the experience will be more overwhelming, and the story will have a darker undercurrent.) It all starts a bit slow, but there’s no external force rushing you, and the game’s trajectory of progress always points upward. It’s an alternate little life, one that gives you the choice to take it easy.

Buy for: Switch, PS4, Xbox, PC
Length: 90 hours

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a pure escapist fantasy where you develop a deserted island into your own bustling community.

$60 at Amazon$60 at GameStop

Animal Crossing: New Horizons might be the most obvious selection on this list, but it’s no accident that this was the game that blew up when the pandemic hijacked modern life in 2020. It’s just about the platonic ideal of the capital-R Relaxing Video Game, a nonviolent escapist fantasy with no fail state, no overwrought narrative and constant progression. It broadly tasks you with developing a deserted island as you see fit. You plant flowers, catch bugs, pave pathways, talk with your animal buddy neighbors, collect a million things and generally hang out.

Everything passes in real time, so sometimes you have to wait to complete whatever little task you had in mind. On the surface, much of what you do is comically unremarkable. (You don’t save people, you buy furniture.) But, like Stardew Valley, the slowness and mundanity is what sells the whole thing. It points toward some of life’s little pleasures – watching things grow, getting to know others, seeing what a new day brings – and gives you a space to enjoy them, at least in some fashion.

Buy for: Switch
Length: 60-400 hours

Tetris Effect

Tetris Effect adds stunning visual themes and a killer soundtrack to the classic block-dropping puzzler.
$40 at Amazon$40 at Microsoft

Tetris Effect is, in essence, a prettier version of the falling-block puzzle game that has compelled the globe since the mid-’80s. Its spacey pop soundtrack and themed boards have an ethereal, almost spiritual quality, one that fits neatly with the trance-like condition Tetris can induce. (This helps explain where the title comes from.)

To be clear, Tetris is not the most relaxing game in the abstract. The way it makes you scramble to fix your past decisions is part of its magic, and several modes in Tetris Effect specifically thrive on stress. Others, however, are explicitly designed to tap into the game’s zen aspects. “Chill Marathon,” for one, simply resets your score upon failure instead of giving you a game over. And since Tetris itself comes as second-nature to an unusually large amount of people, we’ll make an exception for it here. It can be difficult, but even in failure, Tetris Effect induces a mind-freeing state like few games can.

Buy for: Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC, Meta Quest

Dorfromantik

Toukana Interactive
Dorfromantik is a tile-based puzzle game about creating idyllic landscapes.
$15 at Nintendo$14 at GOG

Dorfromantik is a puzzle game in which you lay down tiles to create an idyllic countryside. The tiles come in distinct types: forests, fields, rivers, railroads, little houses and so on. The idea is to chain similar pieces together, and the game will give you little “quests” to connect a certain number of matching tiles to grow your overall stack. Since you can only see a few tiles at once, exactly what your landscape looks like differs from game to game.

The need to keep gaining tiles creates a contingent sort of pressure, but even still, Dorfromantik is a game that encourages slowness and going at your own pace. There’s no time limit, and no way to even really “win.” You’re led to consider each piece, look at the land and see how it all fits. When the tiles run out, you’ve usually created a beautiful little scene. And if you just want to build a landscape without any restrictions, there’s a separate mode for that.

Buy for: Switch, PC

A Short Hike

Whippoorwill Limited
This heartfelt adventure game lets you explore a bustling park as a young bird.
$8 at Nintendo$8 at GOG

A Short Hike is a lovely little adventure game that is completely in tune with itself. You play as Claire, a young bird in a world of anthropomorphic animals, who is staying in a small yet bustling provincial park. Something is weighing on her, and she needs to make a phone call, but the only place with cellular reception is the top of the mountain at the park’s center. Your only real objective in the two-hour game is to get her there.

There is a conventional core to A Short Hike that involves doing light fetch quests for other park-goers and collecting golden feathers to climb higher and double-jump more. But most of these tasks are straightforward, and it quickly becomes apparent that you can (literally) soar around most of the park as you please, taking in the sights and interacting with the other park visitors as they go about their lives. Apart from simply feeling nice, this freedom ties beautifully into the game’s themes: That mountain is calling, but you don’t have to climb it right away. When you do, the world will still be there for you to explore.

Buy for: Switch, PS4, Xbox, PC
Length: 2 hours

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

This action-puzzler has you explore a number of delightfully dense locales from various angles.
$40 at Amazon $40 at Walmart

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is an adorable puzzle-platformer from Nintendo that has you navigate a series of contained, diorama-like levels, each with a gold star at its end. It’s technically a spin-off of the Super Mario games, but here, you can’t jump. Instead, you need to explore the multiplayer game’s densely-packed spaces from new angles, shifting the camera to find hidden pathways and bonus treasures.

The whole thing is neither overlong nor super difficult, but it is determined, in that delightful Nintendo way, to constantly hit you with new ideas, each as playful and meticulous as the last. While it doesn’t reach the creative heights of the best Mario games — some of which were developed by the same team — it is similarly amiable and more easygoing.

Buy for: Switch
Length: 11 hours

Desert Golfing

Captain Games
Desert Golfing is a deeply minimalist golfing game that takes place across a seemingly infinite desert.
$2 at Steam$2 at App Store

Desert Golfing is exactly what its title says and nothing more. There is a ball, a hole, and some procedurally generated desert land in between. That’s it. No par, no club selection, no music, no items, no pause menu, no restarts, not even a physical avatar. Only dragging a cursor back to determine the next shot’s angle and power, and an attempt to get A to B. Once you do, a new hole appears, and you go on, infinitely. (The game technically has an “ending,” but may God have mercy on anyone who plays long enough to see it.)

Desert Golfing reads as overly simple on paper, and sure, it makes sense as a sneaky critique of time-sucking, player-debasing mobile games. Actually playing it, though, borders on meditative. The game’s radical minimalism makes everything and nothing matter all at once. There’s a shot counter at the top, but it’s functionally meaningless, merely signifying how long you’ve played. You may spend 60 shots on one hole, but there’s no invisible eye judging you. Instead, you’re allowed to focus entirely on the simple pleasure of arcing a ball through the air, seeing it kick up sand and eventually making it plonk in the hole. It’s about the act of play more than the rules of a game: golfing, not golf. And when something new does pop up — a well of water, a setting sun, a cactus — it feels momentous.

Buy for: PC, iOS, Android

The Ramp

Coatsink Software
The Ramp is a chill skateboarding game about the simple pleasures of motion and momentum.
$6 at Nintendo

Much like Desert Golfing, The Ramp is a successful experiment in minimalism. It’s a skateboarding game, but its approach is a far cry from the Tony Hawk series. It doesn’t burden you with high scores, skill points, objectives, camera adjustments or a HUD, and it respects you enough to unlock all of its courses and characters after a brief tutorial.

While it takes a moment to get the hang of its controls, The Ramp excels at conveying the joy of motion and momentum in vert skating, from launching at speed, to that brief moment of weightlessness in the sky, to the rush of gravity pulling you back down. There’s a handful of tricks to pull off, some chill music to help set the tone, and no real penalty for biffing it.

The Ramp doesn’t have much “depth” by conventional gaming standards; its developer describes it as a “digital toy,” which sounds about right. But what it does, it does well, and it’s uncompromising in its focus.

Buy for: Switch, PC

Euro Truck Simulator 2

Euro Truck Simulator 2 lets you cruise across a condensed version of Europe, building your own trucking business and going where the road takes you.
$20 at Humble

Euro Truck Simulator 2 lets you drive a bunch of big trucks across a condensed version of Europe, delivering cargo and eventually growing your own trucking business. It’s a simulator, not a GTA game, so you’re expected to follow traffic laws, refuel your vehicle and complete your deliveries on time with as little damage as possible, like you would in the real world.

It doesn’t have the gentlest learning curve, and its management elements aren’t as interesting as the actual trucking. But Euro Truck Simulator 2’s pleasures are similar to those of real-life driving: cruising down a long road, tapping your thumb to the radio, checking out the scenery, going where the route takes you. You’ll get there when you get there. As an aside: All of this is most fun with a wheel, but one isn’t required for this simulation game.

Buy for: PC
Length: 117 hours

Wide Ocean Big Jacket

Wide Ocean Big Jacket is a charming narrative adventure about the little moments that help inform who we become.
$8 at Nintendo$8 at Humble

There’s been no shortage of easy-to-play “walking simulators” in recent years, but Wide Ocean Big Jacket stands out among them for telling a particularly warm short story. It’s crudely animated and maybe an hour long, but it develops more identifiable and human characters in that time than most big-budget games do in 30 hours of gameplay.

The story follows the camping trip of a young couple, Brad and Cloanne, their 13-year-old niece Mord and her friend Ben, and the subsequent lessons they learn about love and each other. It has the air of an indie comedy: a little quirky, funny but not mean-spirited, honest but not long-winded, and moving when it’s time to bring the story home. Its world isn’t ending, and there’s no combat. It’s a game about these characters in this specific moment, and it’s presented like a series of memories, something its bold colors amplify.

The game’s approach to interactivity plays a big role in selling all of this. Instead of merely controlling a specific character, you’re often in charge of the camera, a sort of director role that brings you closer to each scene but distances you, the player, from the action (or what qualifies as action in this case).

Buy for: Switch, PC
Length: 1 hour

Hidden Folks

Adriaan de Jongh
Hidden Folks plays like a richer, more interactive version of puzzle books like Where's Waldo?
$12 at Nintendo

Hidden Folks is like a digital take on those Where’s Waldo? puzzle books you might’ve had as a kid. It presents you with a series of living scenes, each brimming with detail and micro-narratives. You get a set of things to uncover, and once you find enough, you can move to the next stage. The monochrome art is hand-drawn, and all the sound effects derive from people’s voices. It’s cute, intimate and often funny.

Trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack may get frustrating if you’re in the wrong headspace, but this is a game that demands you slow down and be patient. There’s no rush; nobody on the screen is going anywhere.

Buy for: Switch, PC, iOS, Android
Length: 6 hours

PowerWash Simulator

PowerWash Simulator has you slowly and steadily clean the grime out of dirty environments.
$25 at Humble$25 at Xbox

You know those oddly satisfying YouTube videos of people deep-cleaning rugs, driveways, old electronics and the like? PowerWash Simulator is the popular relaxing game version of those. You take on a range of power washing jobs around the town of “Muckingham,” slowly but steadily erasing the grime from various objects in each gig. There’s no time limit or score to meet, and each dirty thing has a corresponding progress bar to complete.

There’s more meat to PowerWash Simulator than you might expect: You can earn money to spend on upgraded power washing equipment, and there’s a narrative mode that goes places, literally and metaphorically. It probably doesn’t need to do quite as much as it does, but PowerWash Simulator’s pleasures are layered: the immediate satisfaction of making dirty things pristine, and the larger one of systematically “working” toward a job well done.

Buy for: Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC
Length: 43 hours

Unpacking

Humble Bundle, Inc.

Unpacking is a simple yet surprisingly emotive game about unpacking boxes.

$18 at Walmart$20 at GOG

Unpacking is a stripped-down puzzler about unpacking boxes. You methodically work your way through each collection of knick-knacks, placing them around different rooms in a sequence of homes. The game is nearly wordless, but it manages to tell a story almost entirely through its isometric environments: The boxes you unpack all belong to the same character, and each move takes place in a different year of their life. This, combined with the pixelated visuals, gives the game a vaguely wistful tone.

Unpacking is still a puzzle game, so it’ll make items glow red until you put them in a “correct” location. This feels like a misstep: If I want to leave my bookbag off to the side of my bed and just be done with things, why can’t I? Isn’t moving messy? Still, even if Unpacking is a bit too gamified, there’s a quiet catharsis to its fantasy of putting everything in its right place. If nothing else, it’s far less stressful than moving in real life.

Buy for: Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC
Length: 4 hours

Please, Touch the Artwork

Please, Touch the Artwork is a set of three relaxed puzzle games based on abstract art.
$8 at Nintendo

Please, Touch the Artwork is a set of three earnest puzzle games, each inspired by abstract art. The specifics of the games differ: One has you mechanically recreate Mondrian-style paintings, another turns Broadway Boogie Woogie into a little love story, and the third reframes New York City as a metaphor for adjusting to life in, well, a big new city. Only the first can get particularly difficult, but the game tells you right upfront that it’s made to be a low-stress experience, with no timers, and hints and redo buttons there if you need them.

What intrigues about Please, Touch the Artwork isn’t what it says about De Stijl and abstract art (as if such works could ever be “solved”). Rather, it’s what it conveys about the experience of taking in art itself, and how close it brings you to the lone developer (Thomas Waterzooi) behind the game. The whole project has an intensely personal feel, like peering into someone’s brain and seeing how this kind of art speaks to them. Some may see that as unbearably pretentious, but even on a mechanical level, Please, Touch the Artwork is welcoming, bold and sincere.

Buy for: Switch, PC, iOS, Android
Length: 4 hours

Zen Bound 2

Secret Exit
This contemplative puzzler tasks you with wrapping various objects with a finite amount of rope.
$15 at Nintendo$5 at Humble

Like most games on this list, Zen Bound 2 has a simple premise: You get a rope and a series of 3D sculptures, and your goal is to wrap the rope around each sculpture until it’s covered completely, coating it with paint in the process. The sculptures themselves can be more difficult than they first seem, however, with many hidden gaps and sharp angles.

Playing Zen Bound 2 demands slow contemplation, almost like meditating on the object you’re binding. This, in turn, may lead you to reflect on the physical nuances of the things you tie yourself to in real life. But even if that sounds pompous, just know that Zen Bound 2 offers a thoughtful way to zone out.

Buy for: Switch, PC
Length: 8 hours